Imagination has no boundaries.

Are we moving to the bottom line – economy and environment and society? Back in 1960, Vance Packard first published The Waste Makers, [Penguin paper-back. 1963]. He dedicated his book to his Mother and Father ‘who have never confused the possession of goods with the good life.’ He warned about ‘ever-mounting consumption’, ‘the vanishing resources’, the ‘changing American character and the commercialization of American life.’

He had earlier written The Hidden Persuaders and The Status Seekers. We were getting the warnings throughout the 1960s, Not just warnings about these ‘waste makers’, but also about the deliberately built-in obsolescence. Now, with the latest digital devices, we are still encouraged to be the first with the new. It is even cleverer now. Governments have been slow to act but since some poorer countries no longer accept our rubbish, Australia’s Prime Minister is saying we need to care about plastic. Our wonderful ABC has brought us ‘The War on Waste’ for two years.

Veena Sahajwalla of the University of New South Wales: Credit UNSW

Many Australians recall our Australian Broadcasting Corporation program. The Inventors’! One of the judges on the panel was Professor Veena Sahajwalla. Remember all those Australian men and women bringing their inventions for consideration! Think of their creativity, solving problems, offering ideas for consideration.

Why have I made ‘Imagination has no boundaries’ the heading for this Sciences and Humanities post? Professor Sahajwalla’s passion has been to reduce waste. She has been called a ‘Waste Warrior’. The following story about her team’s work comes from Australia’s Science Channel.  See  About Us Publishers Series Sponsors Search

A technology that recycles waste into clothing and building products could be the answer to Australia’s crippling waste crisis.

According to a UNSW researcher, the technology is there to reach our waste management goals: Credit: Abdul Raheem Mohamed / EyeEm

Veena Sahajwalla, who invented ‘green steel’ technology that diverts millions of vehicle tyres from landfill, says her newer Microfactory ™ technology is a ready-made answer to deal with the nation’s current waste and recycling crisis.

According to a UNSW researcher, a ready-made answer to our waste and recycling crisis is available in the form of her Microfactory ™ technology.

“The technology doesn’t only address the waste issue, it’s also good for the economy.” And, I suggest, good for the environment and for us as a society!

“Sahajwalla commended the federal and state governments for agreeing to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities, demand and capability in industry. “The heads of governments in Australia tasked Environment Ministers to advise on a proposed timetable and response strategy following consultation with industry and other stakeholders, and the Prime Minister says the timetable would be left up to the States, but I can’t help thinking that scientifically developed methods such as our Microfactory ™ technology is ready to go from lab scale to commercial scale to accelerate the COAG goals,” she explains.

“Importantly, this type of microrecycling science not only addresses the waste and environmental issues, but creates a whole new circular economy where materials are kept in use for as long as possible and can help local manufacturers create new products and items from reformed waste.”

Glass and textiles are turned into clothing and building products

“Veena and her team of scientists, engineers and materials experts through their microrecycling science have invented processes that can reform waste items like glass and textiles, including clothing, into flat ceramic building products and can also transform electronic waste into valuable plastic filament for 3D printing and metal alloys.”

“This coordinated decision to ban the exporting of our recyclable materials to countries that are increasingly resistant to taking our waste is a real game-changer in terms of enabling the spread of home-grown research innovations for the benefit of local industries,” Veena says.

“For example, we can take almost all waste plastic and turn it into a new, highly valuable commodity, 3D plastic filament, which is now mostly imported from overseas.”

“We can deploy this Microfactory ™ technology in rural and regional areas where waste is stockpiled and bring local industries and councils together to create new solutions”.

Professor Sahajwalla goes further: We should accept overseas selected waste.

“In fact, we should accept from overseas selected waste resources that contain valuable materials so that we could transform them into niche materials and in turn export them by using our Microfactory ™ technology to deliver clean and sustainable materials to the world.” Here’s imagination and, with it, evidence of capability for us to grasp.

Nicholas Fisk, UNSW Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), says, “It’s time to rethink attitudes to all of the materials we discard and instead see them as renewable resources if we want to reduce our reliance on finite resources with major impact on the environment.”“This UNSW innovation promises to boost local manufacturers by providing novel opportunities through new supply chains.”

Some of the products made using the Microfactory technology. Credit: UNSW

From the Australian Academy of Science, the short citation read: “Veena Sahajwalla is an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer and innovator who is revolutionising recycling science. . . . As Director of the Sustainable Materials Research and Technology Centre at UNSW, she has built a world-class research hub. Sahajwalla leads a highly innovative research program that fosters innovation and promotes collaboration with industry to ensure that scientific advances in sustainable materials and processes are readily translated into commercially-viable environmental solutions.”

Vance Packard ended his book, thus, in 1960, If adversity must be the prod for us to take a larger interest in such matters, it might still represent a gain. [p 302]

Reviewing The Waste Makers, in 1963, The Times wrote: ‘ [It] should be made compulsory prison reading for every politician, every economist, every advertising agent, and every industrialist who attempts to equate a high standard of living with the purchase of the unnecessary, the inferior and the short-lived article.’

For 2019, click on Australia’s Science Channel Smartphone Recycling in Australia

The KKK took my colours away

This is the title of a work of art by Jim Thalassoudis of Australia, done in lead white oil paint, wood and glass, 2017. It is impressive. To see it you will have to go to Chromatopia: An Illustrated History of Colour by David Coles, with photographs by Adrian Lander, published by Thames and Hudson, [p 217]. You’ll know the artist’s intention when you face the work that produced this challenging title. He is challenging white supremacy and all that it represents. But why does this work of art belong here with the Sciences and Humanities? This is a gift from Dr. Adriana Dutkiewicz, Senior Lecturer in Geological Science in the University of Sydney.

On the surface, it looks as if the book belongs on the HASS – Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences – side of that divide put in place by the reviewers in the 2015 Australian National Curriculum.

But David Coles takes me to minerals. I learn that Lead White is ‘the greatest and the cruellest of the whites’. What! Something made can be cruel? I discover it is “basic lead carbonate, formed by the reaction of lead with vapours of vinegar (acetic acid) and carbon dioxide.”

I have been taken across that artificial, troublesome divide into the world of the sciences, technologies, engineering and mathematics. In this case, it’s chemistry: one of the most important pigments for artists for 2,000 years. But lead is toxic.

David Coles gives me further information. “This is not such an issue for artists whose contact with it in paint is limited, but for workers in lead white factories the symptoms of poisoning include headaches, memory loss, abdominal pain and eventually death. In the late 19th century safer synthetic whites superseded lead white. Zinc white was its first competitor and then, in the 20th century, the introduction of titanium white almost completely replaced lead white’s commercial use.” [p 39]

Our children and their parents know how toxic it is because factories, like lead smelters for example, have been built too near homes, too near schools, with too little regard for its deadly impact on the brain: that is because of little concern on the technological side for the human side.

There we have it. Too much separation. Too little connection.

And we are back with a previous blog – the Periodic Table – science AND the humanities

But, back to Chromatopia. Such a marvellous, beautifully produced, holistic history of colour. Each pigment, each colour has a page, with a magnificent facing photograph. Look up ‘woad’. Look up ‘indigo’. See the connections that cross millennia. The ancient Egyptians first developed synthetic colours. Look up ‘mummy brown’. Look up ‘brazilwood’ – a country named after a wood! Consider graphite. Consider Mars colours, since Mars is on our space-based agenda.

But don’t forget.

Lead is still widely used for car batteries, pigments, ammunition, cable sheathing, weights for lifting, weight belts for diving, lead crystal glass, radiation protection and in some solders. It is often used to store corrosive liquids.

Lead – Element information, properties and uses | Periodic Table

In South Australia secondary school students today might not, since the official 2015 curriculum does not encourage it, have the chance early in their secondary schooling to make connections across disciplines. They did at Marion High School, a ‘lighthouse school’ for South Australia destroyed by a Liberal government in 1996. Students began the process through a theme in Year 9. In Year 10 ‘Bridging’ was student-directed. In Year 11 Independent Study took them in all kinds of directions to the surprise of teachers and the delight of the Inventors group that came to see their work displayed in the Durney Resources Library. In 2019 the Year 12 research project that encourages these connections is seen too often as an infringement of subject time. That attitude results in the perpetuation of subjects as ‘silos’. That earlier initial approach depends upon the attitudes and skills of teachers.

Look what we miss by the segregation of disciplines in this thoughtless, divisive way. Effective learning values intersections*, crosses boundaries.

For fun, I looked up the saying, “Get the lead out’ and found the following:

Etymologists do agree it began to be commonly used in the United States beginning in the early 20th century, often as the slightly longer “get the lead out of your pants”. The idea is simply that the person whom you are telling this is moving slowly as if they are weighted down with lead, so “getting the lead out” would make them move faster.” Today, how do we get the lead out, find the less toxic alternative? Artists were able to do it.

What sparked her imagination? A footnote on a page!

Dr Robyn Arianrhod of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, is a writer and mathematician. Her passion for both literature and mathematics reflects her love of language. That love is evident in “Einstein’s Heroes: Imagining the World through the Language of Mathematics.” Published in 2003, it was reprinted three times in 2004.

But the reason she is here is the evidence of that love in the opening of her wonderful book for the general reader like me. Her opening chapter heading is A Seamless Intertwining. She opens with David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon, a novel whose protagonist, Gemmy, loses his language. ‘Gemmy had been washed up on an Australian shore, a ‘scrawny. Illiterate, thirteen-year old.’ This is a very important novel for Australians. Language and identity go together. We will go on from this initial connection to her love of mathematics, an inclusive love.

Robyn Arianrhod does not fear connections.

In Einstein’s Heroes, Robyn Arianrhod takes us into a world many of us have lost, the world of mathematics. She takes us to the people who inspired Einstein. One is Michael Faraday. I love him. Look him up.  Another is James Clerk Maxwell, who was also a poet. [A poem of his is in Challenging the Divide: Approaches to Science and Poetry.] And, writing of the elegance of Maxwell’s electromagnetic equation – a quatrain – [p 227], Robyn Arianrhod draws a comparison with another quatrain, this time by William Blake with the opening line, ‘To see a world in a grain of sand’. She brings them together and, in the concluding paragraph of that chapter, returns to what Maxwell’s ‘quatrain’ gave us: ‘the blueprint for light and energy and therefore life itself.’ [p 228]. We are told we’ll ‘scream Eureka when we read it’. And I did. I was understanding so much. Not all but Robyn was expanding my horizon.

And here was the ‘seamless intertwining’ I am so often looking for.

Why should girls be told to give up love of language, art, history, music, to cross that abysmal divide to STEM?  Why not take that love with them to enhance their understanding in their chosen fields of discovery? It will save us from the danger of narrow minds. Let them have literature and all it offers as well as what the sciences, technologies, engineering and mathematics offer. Let there be STEAM.  Robyn Arianrhod has room for Malouf, Blake and Shakespeare. She brings in Othello.

Robyn Arianrhod’s next book was Seduced by Logic: Emilie du Chatelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution, published in 2011. A reviewer wrote: ‘from the acclaimed author of Einstein’s Heroes comes the gripping story of two of the most glamorous and influential women of mathematics.’ [ I apologise about the accents – can’t find them on my machine!]

Why is Robyn Arianrhod in my Sciences and Humanities blog today?

She has been interviewed by Robyn Williams of our wonderful ABC’s Radio National Science Show, Saturday, August 2nd 2019, about what has now ‘sparked her imagination’. And here it is Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science.

Robyn Arianrhod’s imagination refuses to be limited by acronyms.

Our world today needs women who refuse to be boxed in by this or that acronym. And we need teachers in all disciplines at all levels of education, who refuse to have the minds and hearts of their students boxed, stunted in fact, to this or that ‘silo’ or by this or that barrier or divide. Why are we in this global climate mess? For too many in powerful positions it is very profitable still. For others it is a system of schooling that separated too many women from supposedly ‘male’ subjects, limiting their focus. And then there’s religious bigotry. The children are crying out because adults are undermining their future.

Robyn Arianrhod’s curiosity about a footnote led her to Thomas Harriot, this Tudor Elizabethan polymath, the English equivalent of Galileo and Kepler, the precursor to Newton. And a linguist! A navigator. He voyaged to the New World. [See the information about him in the International Year of Astronomy 2009.]

Thanks to the time, effort, research, her willingness to go where the evidence and her love of mathematics has taken her, Robyn Arianrhod is taking me to science in Tudor England. With her love of mathematics has gone her love of literature and language. She spoke eagerly to Robyn Williams about Harriot’s discovery of binary numbers and what his working documents have given her about his approach.

Oxford University Press has published her book. Thomas Harriot: A Life in Science. Robyn Arianrhod is taking me into the heart of London, with all its ‘intersections’,* the political as well as scientific ramifications of its 16th /17th century world and, as a result, I meet a human being, among other human beings, not an abstraction. So, here’s to the humanities AND sciences, technologies, engineering, mathematics because it’s the humanities that remind us of the essential human connections in everything we decide to do.

Thomas Harriot – forgotten Elizabethan scientist comes to life